The virtually acceptable world of distribution online

Melanie Torres

Melanie Torres, Principal Media’s SVP of worldwide distribution, reflects on a year of working from home and the challenges it has presented for the global sales industry.

It’s been over a year since I last attended a conference in person. It was NATPE in Miami, January 2020. After that, the bottom dropped out of the conference market and the mad scramble to recreate the conference experience online was on. It was a bumpy transition to say the least, but a year later we’re seeing improvements brought on by advances in the technology that drives these platforms, as well as the numbers of people willing to forge into the brave new virtual world to do what they can to sell or be sold to.

I miss the serendipitous moments that arise from being in the same place at the same time as thousands of your colleagues from around the world

With MIPTV virtual coming up, I got to thinking about whether or not we would ever see the communal spirit of the past return to the business of content sales. Certainly, I have seen many colleagues also jump online from their home offices, living rooms and kitchen tables to participate, but the ease in which we’ve come to enjoy connecting with colleagues via Zoom is not necessarily there in the online conference environment no matter how sophisticated the technology is.

Technology cannot put executives on the same time zone, after all, and I have found myself scratching my head as to why I am in front of my computer at a virtual session at 11pm when I could have just reached out to one of the participants individually to set a time better for us both!

Visibility & context

What virtual conferences and even the virtual content marketplaces that have been picking up steam have done is provide another platform for visibility, which is helpful to those of us in sales, of course.

What they can’t provide is context for the buyer. That’s where actually talking or meeting with a salesperson really underscores the point. Unless you have some idea of what you’re looking for, there’s a bit of the ‘finding and needle in a haystack’ scenario.

If you’re in sales, I’m sure you can recall many times when a regular or potential buyer needed a little more than a screener and available rights to make a decision. Maybe a package of titles, or some compelling data about a series’ performance in a given territory, or the fact that the filmmakers grew up in the same city as the buyer got the deal across the finish line. Let’s not forget the amount of people walking by our booths or stands who see our marketing and stop to ask for more information and suddenly we have a new client.

Serendipity & opportunity

One of the reasons I miss actually attending conferences in person is not the free-flowing rosé or beachside lunches (although those perks are not without their merits), but the serendipitous moments and opportunities that arise from being in the same place at the same time as thousands of your colleagues from around the world.

The glorious happenstance of being at the same party or dinner or happy hour with colleagues who introduce you to that one individual who may turn out to be someone you forge a lasting bond with and becomes a long-time client. It happens and it’s why we get on those planes and spend a week traipsing up and down the Croisette in shoes that give us blisters! That stuff just doesn’t happen in a virtual environment.

Will we see the conference industry iterate yet again, perhaps in the form of more, smaller and locally focused events?

Crystal ball gazing

So, what can we expect in the future? Many of the conferences we used to attend at this time of year are committed to the virtual manifestation of their former selves. But if we are to believe the prognosticators, this fall may see the return of in-person events like MIPCOM.

With mind-numbing and heart-wrenching Covid-19 causality numbers still fresh in our collective psyche, will we be returning in droves? Or will we see the conference industry iterate yet again, perhaps in the form of more, smaller and locally focused events?

With streaming services emphasising more local content, this may very well be the path forward. Until then, we will continue as we’ve all been conditioned to do throughout this global pandemic…get up in the morning, commute from our living rooms to our home offices and make sure we look virtually acceptable for doing business online.

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